Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Remembering you

Dear Aai,
I was reading a book last night, Rujwan, by Maneesha Dixit. It's one of the best books I have read; there are a few more chapters left to read. The author has written about her father and brother and other people in her life. Actually, you could call it a book of portraits – of people, of relationships and the knots that bind them together.
She has dealt with the deaths of her father and brother with sensitivity. Some expressions and emotions described in the book cut me to the core.
I knew that feeling of foreboding; something inauspicious, bad is going to stare me in my face. I don't know why you chose me, out of your three kids, to tell that you aren't going to live long. That was on September 3, and 17 days later you passed away.
You had uttered these words earlier too, sometimes as an emotional blackmail, sometimes as a mock threat. But, that night on September 3, I knew you were speaking the truth. I could sense death marching closer and closer.
Trust me, I tried my best to help you dodge it. But, what is written, is written.
It was this feeling that prompted me to come home on 20th. I had made plans to take the bus home, after work. But the call came in the afternoon, asking me to rush home.
I did. I took a cab home and when it rolled down through the open gate, I half expected you to come and stand near the grilled door, watching as I alight, and then chatting with the driver, giving him baksheesh.
When you didn't appear, I felt as if something vital was missing. Like there is going to be a break in the routine. When I saw you lying on the bed, with no hint of recognition in your eyes, listless, and strangely quit, I was sceptical. I was angry too; I didn't know what was happening; I just wanted to console myself with normalcy; normalcy of your chatter and instructions – wash your feet; don't dump your bag here etc etc.
The doctor had left before I came; he had assured everyone that all is fine with you. And, once the tranquilizing effects wore off, you will be back to normal. Just hang on for a day. You lasted for just 30 mins.
And, when that attack came, it was just Anu and I. You snapped your head strangely, almost twisting it in the process. It was Anu who held you on in her lap; I was screaming and then I was calling the doctor. It took me a few minutes to understand the name of the tablet which we were supposed to give you. Papa went to buy the tablet, leaving me and Anu to watch over you.
Your breathing was laboured; your face turned black and then blue and then the breath came out slowly. When the doctor came, he declared you dead. But, but, Anu said, she just exhaled. The doctor shook his head.
For days after that I questioned why I was the one to be told that you were dying and why I had to be present. What I gathered later was that you were awake and lucid for couple of hours. That you recognised your first born, my brother, vahini and your granddaughter. You spoke a few words with Anu and my father too.
Unfortunately, I am still not sure if you recognised me when I came home in the evening. You said nothing...Only when I was pressing your legs, you had held my hand tightly in your grip. But, not a word.
And, then you left.
That day, when I was in office, before coming home, I was reading this news on ticker. Some man got up from his pyre...he was mistaken to be dead. When they took you away for cremation, this thought kept popping in my mind. Maybe you were alive, and you felt the heat of the flames. Were you hurt? Could you shift away from the flames? I started looking for signs; I guess others were too.
Vahini pointed out there was sudden profusion of hibiscus flowers in the garden; red ones. Perhaps they knew that you were biding bye-bye and wanted to say their farewell too. I had never seen so many blooms of jaswandi before either. It could have been possible, right? They were your favourites and in any case you loved flowers and plants more than you liked us.
I also spotted this rooster in garden. We have had several animals and birds living in the garden. Was it you who had come back to see things for one last time? I didn't see it after four days. I don't think anyother rooster has made an appearance in all these years.
We found your diaries. I don't know if I should even be calling it a diary. You used up the empty pages in Chintu's notebooks to scribble notes and keeping hisaab. We read bits and pieces laughing over your spelling mistakes, and the typical Konkani lilt in the written word.
Then, of course, the house was full of wool balls; sweaters, half knit ones. Anu took away the sweaters, I brought along with me a white wool ball. I can't knit to save my life; but I think I should string the Shanta-Durga and Mother Mary's locket and wear it around my neck, like I used to do earlier. Now, I am wearing it around my silver chain.
Some of your books are with me. I still find money order receipts for Daddy and Mayo in some of the pages! Your musty-smelling sarees are still hanging in the cupboard. Somehow I don't feel like opening it and prying into its contents, like I did earlier. That's more Chintu's thing now. He opens it to go through the photo albums.
I still dream of you.
You seem to make up for that chatter-less evening. You keep talking, waving and gesturing. I don't remember a single word on waking up. All I can remember are the images, you sitting in the chair knitting, watering plants, ferreting out balls which fell into the garden and refusing to hand them over to the boys who came asking for them. Those balls went to Chintu when he played cricket. That was very wicked of you!
Earlier, I used to be troubled by these images. I hated you for not letting me move on. I still don't know what you want from me, what you wish to say. But, now I think I can make peace with your after-death/life existence. Some day it will all become clear to me. Till then..I guess you will make your presence felt through my dreams. And, you will keep a watch on me and on others too.
Maneesha Dixit, thanks for writing those chapters. I finally got the courage to voice certain thoughts.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Big Picture

I think we are acting like “sheep”..where one goes, several follow. How else can you describe this coverage of Vidya Balan as the media-nominated brand ambassador for sarees?

  • Has it escaped everyone's notice that Sonakshi Sinha in all her hitherto movies has been dressed in sarees? Remember Dabangg, Dabangg 2 and now her forthcoming Lootera? Sonakshi might not be a powerhouse performer like Vidya Balan, but looks a lot better than her.

  • There were hardly any newsreports covering Cannes Film Festival; any ignoramus will think that Cannes is a fashion show; catty comments, bitching and some more bitching about Indian Princess wearing nathni. The only Indian who stood out there, not because of her sartorial sense, was Nandita Das. Discreet, elegant and sophisticated and INTELLIGENT.

  • YJHD crossing so many crore benchmark is a joke. How can anyone like this movie? This, self-congratulatory, well-done pat on the back, which Karan Johar needs every now and then? And, since no one will do it for Johar, he decides to revolve the whole picture around him, his productions and heroines and his buddyship with SRK. Or wait, maybe he meant it as a tribute to the Indian cinema (Bollywood to Johar). Listen carefully to Badtameez Dil..you will find Chikni Chameli and Chikna Kameena..remember chameli (Katrina) from Agneepath and Kameena Shahid Kapoor. There's bole chudiya, there's reference to DDLJ running at Maratha Mandir, there's Karan Arjun joke, and then Awara tattoo being flashed by RK JR. Hell, we went to watch a movie made by Ayan Mukherjee (Wake Up Sid was the pull) and not this “pat me on the back” mess. Karan Johar grow up!

  • SRK...you too! I agree with my friend who said that SRK needs to stay off the camera for 3-4 years at the least. Go take a break! Relax! Smoke! Fight! After that, perhaps you can stretch your facial muscles into emoting. Aren't you tired of doing the same, same thing, movie after movie. You are stuck in a rut. I watch Swades sometimes, to remind myself that you are a good actor. You can act sometimes; rest of the time you just HAM.

  • I am tired of seeing Aamir Khan parading as intellectual, working his grey cell charm. Please...Aamir..stick to acting. You do a far better job than express opinions on subjects which you know very little about. Little knowledge is dangerous – remember? And, what's this with cross-dressing? Cross-dressing to sell Godrej refrigerators? Wow!

  • Saif Ali Khan...don't every do the “pungi” dance. You are far too classy for that!

  • Katrina Kaif, do you know Kalki Koechlin? She is white-skinned of French parentage. Speaks Hindi far better than you; you with your half-Indian parentage could learn something from her. In fact even learn to act!

I am not being mean...okay. It's just that we are being fed selective truth for a long, long time. I just wanted to state beyond the obvious. Maybe it reads like a rant. But, this is how I feel.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Women in Mahabharat

Had attended a lecture series on "Women in Mahabharat" by Aaranyavaak. Speaker was Dr Sucheta Paranjpe. This blog is just a reproduction of notes that I took during the lecture.


Unlike Gandhari, Kunti stood up for her sons. They had Kunti’s unwavering support. Only exception was Karna. Kunti must have been sad when she set him afloat on the river, bundled in a casket. There’s a song which describes her state of mind, which is included in Durgabai Bhagwat’s Vyasparva.

When Kunti realizes who Karna is, before the war, she goes to him and asks him to join the Pandavas, but Karna doesn’t agree. That’s not ethical on Kunti’s part.

Similarly, she also fails Draupadi, when she inadvertently advises her sons that the “goods” Arjuna had bought should be shared equally amongst the five brothers. When she comes out of her suite (or kitchen), and sees that it’s Draupadi and not fruits as she had assumed, Kunti should have taken back her words. But, she doesn’t. Instead she says, “My sons will find it difficult to break my word.”

This is very tragic because Kunti has also been a victim of a forced parentage and marriage. Her biological father gave away her to King Kuntibhoj (She was adopted) without taking her wish/desire into account.

She was also cheated when her marriage was arranged with Pandu, who was a sickly man. Their marriage couldn’t be consummated because of a curse on Pandu; if Pandu kept a physical relationship with a woman, that would result in his death.

It so happens that Pandu is unable to overcome his attraction for Madri, his second wife. Their marriage is consummated and that results in Pandu’s death. When Kunti learns of Pandu’s death from Madri, she also realizes the reason. Her feelings are expressed thus, “Rati, Mati, Gati ya madhye tu vartan nighgalis.” That means, Madri was lucky to explore her desires at least once.

After this incident, Madri decides to commit “Sahgaman” (not sati). Her two sons, twins, Nakul and Sahdev are left in Kunti’s care. (Kunti has three sons – Yudhishtir, Arjun and Bheem born as a result of boons granted to her by Durvas Muni). Kunti has special affection for Sahdev, the youngest. She is also said to have told Draupadi, when it’s Sahdev’s turn to be with her, to shower more love on him.


She is the nayika of Mahabharat. Spirited, willful and confident. She is also said to be the perfect example of “Pativrata”. Her birth is said to herald the “destruction of Kshatriya clan.” There was a proclamation to that effect from the skies, so it’s said in one of the versions of Mahabharat.

Described as “tejaswi”, Draupadi was also cheated in marriage. After the Pandavas decide to adhere to Kunti’s wish, Draupadi is not known to have reacted. But, her, father, King Dhrupad took objection to such a marriage. He consults Krishna and a priest. Both say that such a marriage is valid. No one, however, thinks it necessary, to ask Draupadi’s willingness. Her humiliation isn’t complete though.

On the first day (night), Draupadi is asked to sleep at the feet of Pandavas’ in such a manner that each body part is in contact with the bodies of five brother. (the brothers would sleep in a row).

Why did Draupadi, who shows her fiery temperament, in the course of Mahabharata, not react when she’s divided amongst the five brothers? Two plausible reasons: One, she must be stricken at the turn of events and is too confused to take a stance. Secondly, she must have decided to avenge her marriage later.

The highlight of the epic is Vastraharan, as we know it. In the Critical Edition, it’s discussed as Vastrakarshan. When Yudhishthir, who has a weakness for a game of dice, and is invited to play along with his brothers, the Kauravas had no inkling that he would pawn himself, his brothers and his wife.

Thus, the Vastrakarshan wasn’t planned. Draupadi, who had that time was menstruating, was garbed in a single garment (as per the conventions), with her hair let loose, was in her suite. When a servant passed on the message that her husband had pawned her and she had become “Kauravas dasi” and was ordered to come to the court, she sends a reply, “What right does the man, who has already lost himself, have to pawn me?” – this displays her spirit.

However, the Kauravas, in a boisterous mood, send Dushyasan, who drags her back to the court. Dhritarashtra stands up for her and says the “Queen of Kuru clan cannot be humiliated.” He grants her three boons – she can ask what she wants. The Kauravas, who think that they will loose all riches they had gained from Pandavas, are astounded to hear Draupadi’s demands. Her first wish, “Yudhishthir should be freed from the shackles of being a servant.”

Her second wish, “The other four should be freed from the shackles of being a servant and be given one weapon each.”

“On the basis of these two demands they will regain what they have lost,” she concludes.

On hearing this, Karna, says, “Draupadi is the one who rows the Pandavas to safety/to shore.” She is given the simile of a “boat.”

After reaching their quarters, Yudhishthir is again invited to a game of dice by the Kauravas, which he accepts again, despite Draupadi’s pleas to not do so. This time they are exiled for 12 years and 1 year of ‘adnyatwas.’

In this period, Draupadi urges them to acquire skills – Yudhishthir is asked to improve his skills at dice, Bheem is advised to hone his wrestling, Arjuna, his archery and the younger two were asked to study veterinary science.

This aspect of encouraging and motivating husbands to explore their potential, is the finest example of “Pativrata.”

Interestingly, Draupadi, Kunti, Madri have no name of their own. Their names have been derived from the names of their fathers or the kingdoms they ruled. This lack of identity shows how women were treated even in that period.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

A heady mix (that doesn't give you a hang-over)

I have been reading a lot about Anuja Chauhan, the one who came up with the now famous Pepsi tagline – Nothing official about it! She is the newest entrant, it seems, to the chick lit genre. I have not read chick lit, so I wasn't sure what to expect. References to marriages, good daughters, bad daughters....and Men. Men you can swoon over. Is that what one finds in chick lit? I still don't know.

I did read Chauhan's 'Those pricey Thakur girls', but I am not wiser to know if it qualifies the tag of chick-lit genre. Anyway, my reason for picking up the book, was purely personal. The book is set in the 80s, the decade in which I was born. And, it has a DD newsreader and a print journalist in conflict mode. Endearing, lost and looking for honest, kind and brave man, Debjani Thakur finds herself in love with Dylan Singh Shekawat. He of the Manglorean Christian and Rajput parentage and the fearless, young advocate of “Truth. Balance. Courage”, (motto of the paper he works for), falls in love with Debjani Thakur. Sparks fly, misunderstandings galore; end result: the two get married.

I haven't really spilled the beans. Their romance is just one fifth of the love and longing floating in the Thakur's Hailey Road bungalow. Five daughters, each prettier than the other. A retired judge for father, who loves his kot-piece. An easy-going mother, who keeps a sharp look-out on her five daughters and shows each one her rightful place in the house.

The innumerable suitors of the girls (married and unmarried), a Chachi who is a hysterical believer in jadoo-tona, a Chacha who is lusting after the maid and Gulgul bhaisaab, who can't clear LLB exams, but dreams of opening jim (gym). How did I miss the mongrels lining up the Hailey Road? And, the cat? It is she who gets the wedding bells to toll.

It's an interesting concoction of the crazy Indian family. But, I prefer the Lobsters over the Thakurs. Dylan's mother is Juliet Lobo, a Manglorean, referred to as “Lobster”, by her sons and students. The interaction between the Lobsters and Rajput is priceless. Hilarious. Not even Judgesaab's humour in naming his daughters, like a file system (A for Anjini, B for Binodini, C for Chandralekha, D for Debjani and E for Eeshwari), matches the rowdy, bawdy bawling between the Lobsters and Rajputs. Daisy Duck – Donny Noronha...priceless.

If you know your Jane Austen and don't want to be bothered by the Indian version (this is my opinion, strictly so) then don't read this book.
(Oh yes, the book is also about the State-sponsored Sikh genocide after Indira Gandhi's assassination and how DD tried to gloss over the facts. One paper covered the riots, killings and is still pursuing the case. Any guesses of the names of the publication?)

Monday, 25 March 2013

Miracle vs Chak De! India

I chanced on "Miracle" on Zee Studio last evening. It's the movie on which Chak De! India is based, or to put it more blunty - Chak De! India was "inspired" by Miracle.
Out and out copy. Okay, there are a few differences - it's US vs Soviet conflict playing in the background; the coach is not battling charges of  being a "traitor"; Herb Brooks almost made it to the 1960 US Olympics team, but was cut out in the last week before the Games.
He is chosen to coach the US Ice Hockey Team, in times when the country's morale has been bruised and hurt; the Soviets appear invincible. And, the boys he is leading belong to rival Universities - Minnesota and Boston. In the Indian version, we have the States.
The "India" call which set the mood for Chak De...came in much later in Miracle.
I found this movie a lot better - you can see for yourself that SRK's mannerisms, posturing is based on the Brooks guy. The former is more "aggro" in tone/speech; Brooks is more in action. He hardly ever raised his voice. Their climax (win over Soviet Union on American soil) was thrilling, nail-biting even though I knew how it would end.
There's lot of history and politics in the movie too. It was the Cold War era; nuke weapons dominate TV and news headline and of course Carter's boycott of Moscow Games. The Soviet head instead decided to play on American soil, at Lake Placid, and lost.
In a preparatory round - US was thrashed badly by the Soviets. In ours, girls team lost to boys.
The YRF movie relied too much on gimmicks - of course the team chose them well. Creating women heroes, a coach whose patriotism is under question and then the State divide and the family vs career battle. They made it very Indian. Wish they were original too.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Listen...Amaya, Special 26 and Kharemaster

Thankfully, I ended my movie drought after watching, Listen...Amaya first and then Special Chabbis. First..Listen...Amaya. I am betting that those who had gathered to watch the movie in the half-empty hall (or half-full, depends on how you see the world) had come for Deepti Naval and Farooque Shaikh magic. The magic is there, alright, but I have two serious objections about two words in the movie - about which the movie is incidentally based on.
"Modern" is one word and "Mature" is another.
I would have replaced Modern with "Liberal" and Mature with "sensitivity".
Leela (Deepti Naval) and Jai Sinha or Jazz as he is called (Farooque Shaikh) are widowers. Leela runs a coffee shop cum book shop called "Book a cafe". And, Jazz is an amateur photographer, capturing pics of Leela and her daughter, Amaya (Swara Bhaskar) and also reminscing about his wife and daughter, Aditi killed in an accident.
The two find love again after a long time, friendship and understanding too. The question is how to break this news to Amaya, who finds it all on her own, quite accidentally. And, instead of accepting it like a "Modern" girl, she sulks, throws tantrums, breaks-off communication with her mother. She thinks it's one great betrayal - her dead father has been betrayed and his daughter too.
What's actually troubling her is the fact that her mother might be actually having physically relations with Jazz. This is where here "Modern" upbringing and education comes into question.
I think it's more to do with how liberal the person is. Education and modern upbringing has nothing to do with being liberal. That's to do with your thinking, right?
Eventually, Amaya has her way. Her mom calls off her relationship with Jazz because she can't bear to see her daughter unhappy. Amaya's friend questions her maturity and understanding. I would say it's more to do with being sensitive to someone's needs and emotions. Call it maturity or sensitivity, Amaya finally sees light and gets the couple back together. Meanwhile, she also writes a book, Jazz does the photographs and it's printed too. Cool, no? Yes, Jazz is also an alzheimer patient. How's that for a spoiler?
Special 26 has got it all - plot, fine cast and a director, who struck gold with his first movie, A Wednesday. But, it didn't quite grip me like "A Wednesday" did. Something's missing and I can't put my finger on it. What I loved about the movie though is the detailing. All the characters have been fleshed out. I liked when Manoj Bajpayi runs with his kid, sitting on his shoulders, to meet the school bus. I loved his interaction with his wife. I loved Kishore Kadam checking for dried clothes on the clothesline, tucking his sleeping son and wife in the blanket. Anupam Kher's transformation from a frail, vulnerable, old man into a confident, no-nonsense CBI officer (con man) is superb. And, Akshay Kumar - when will he stop doing the asinine roles? He's good in Special 26. But, he could have made more impact if the love angle in his life had been trimmed quite a bit. This love angle has been stretched too far and I guess that's what distracts us from the heist operation. The climax is anti-climax. I knew what was going to happen. Of course, everyone sitting in the hall knew that one man had robbed off the Tribhuvandas Bhimji Zaveri of several crores. But, how, was the question. The way it was shown in movie was quite tame. And, with an end like that, I am sure there will be talks of a sequel to the movie.
Have been re-reading Kharemaster, by Vibhavari Shirurkar. I found the book in CP, Delhi and I was thrilled. I had been trying for years to lay my hands on Shirurkar or Malatibai Bedekar's writings.
Anyway, more about this book later.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

My home: the way I remember it

Some more changes have been made. There's a ramp now to help the senior citizens climb the steps
This is how the garden looks now
The garden wasn't so neat and didn't have a manicured look when my mother was alive and kicking
I am buried under an avalanche of work. At times like this, I wish I was back home, in my room (now no longer mine) and sleep and sleep. But, since I can't, I tried visualising that I was back home.
My home. How it has changed!
Now that I pause to think, I can see, recall how it looked - initially a cement structure. I remember there's a pic of my mother sitting on the steps leading to the house. In the background is a ladder resting against the parapet of the terrace.
Then, I remember the house being painted. Red colour? I am not quite sure. There's another picture of Aju, Abhi (my friends and rakhi-brothers) and I standing on the veranda looking at...I don't know what. The landscape was very "dry". No trees and no greenery. I remember there was a dusty path leading from our house straight down to several small clusters (ghosalwadi). There was this sudden dip in the path/track (little beyond my house) which was quite fun when I cycled down. The cycle landed with a bump. Climbing was a bit difficult. It was even more difficult during the rains, when a small pool of rainwater, muddy, was created just below the dip. It was so slushy, that the gumboot clad feet, struggled to walk a few feet to the next patch where the ground was a bit firm.
We had a gate just where the ground was firm. I am jumping. The gate was constructed when we erected a wired compound. Until then all the villagers, cows, bullocks, pigs too used the dirt track to reach the main road.
When the gate was erected, my sister and I, for a short period, used to enter and exit after shouting "password". This was clearly the impact of Secret Seven (Enid Blyton). The bolts of the gate, sang, out of tune, so the house didn't really need a watchman. No one could dream of entering the compound quietly. Unless, it was open, which my parents ensured that it never was.
Now the main gate, has moved from the side of the house to diagonally opposite. Lost in cluster of buildings. There's another one at the end of the compound - which is now a wall compound - to demarcate the house and the garden from the housing complex.
There was a garage before the house. But that's gone now. My father parks his vehicle under a tin roof canopy, which slopes down from the terrace.
The steps leading to the house didn't have enough room for the slimmest person to walk. It was cluttered with flower pots and creepers. You had to move them away from the red (stone) steps to sit and watch the rain fall.
Yes, I remember once dancing like a mad on a rainy afternoon. Then, not many houses or buildings were raised and the tree cover over and around the house was so enormous that the few bungalows nearby could never actually peep in our garden. It was pure fun. I have never experienced torrential rains like that any more, partly because I am never home now during the rains and partly because I believe it doesn't pour cats and dogs anymore.
It was a treat to watch the Hajimalang mountain covered in mist and the Bahula-Bahuli dongar. I don't know the name of the Bahula-bahuli dongar - I call it so because one peak is fat and podgy.The other is slim and straight. I can't watch them anymore because of a new apartment complex coming up near the old highway. It blocks the view.
Walking up and down under the star-lit sky (now the tin roof has spoiled the pleasure) was wonderful. Like it was just you and you alone, on the earth. You and the sky above!
After reading all this, don't think that my house has become a stranger. It's the other way round. I have become a stranger to the house. I am sure, when I go back, I will discover my old, forgotten nooks and cranies. The gulmohour tree with its orange red blossoms will smile again for me. The mogra will spread its fragrance. And, I will be happy eating tulsi leaves. Yes, that's a bad habit.  I feel very clean after chomping on two or three tulsi sprigs.